Corley reflects on career as he prepares to retire

June 6, 2008

Bill Corley, who announced today that he will retire after 25 years as CEO of Community Health Network, says doctors nearly ran him out of the hospital within months of his arrival in 1984.

Doctors mutinied because they tied Corley's appearance to a new approach by the federal government to limit reimbursements for certain services. Corley was blamed even though he wasn't responsible for the sudden change.

Corley, now age 65, says he never heard the vote outcome after the board met over whether to keep him.

"I was supported because I was brand new, and many board members understood this was a major change that was happening all across the country," said Corley, who announced his retirement, effective at the end of 2009, this
morning. "It was rocky for awhile."

Corley says he considered himself a maverick within the health care system from the time he took up a master's degree program at Duke University in health care administration.

Most fellow students already were working in health care - and had virtually no concerns about keeping costs under control.

"I met hospital administrators, and I was not impressed," he recalls. "In the '60s, all you had to do was keep doctors happy."

Corley had more than one brush with angry doctors at Community.

When the north campus was opened in 1985, obstetricians refused to travel to the new location because they were accustomed to working from the home base on the east side.

But child-bearing women were moving north. The board finally agreed to renovate the facility to house an obstetrics unit, and a group of doctors moved to the location.

After the doctors started to prosper in the new location, "it became a non-issue," Corley said.

Corley counts his greatest accomplishment as establishing a culture at Community as a place where patients, doctors and staff want to come. The upshot is that the hospital has little need to advertise available jobs.

"Our employees recruit their friends, and people stay," he said.

He looks back on one development with regret. Corley won't divulge details, but wished a group of specialists hadn't left the hospital in 1995.

Corley said he and his wife, Angela, plan to continue living in Carmel.

Corley is joining the Institute for Community Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., as a full-time advisor to help hospitals implement the kinds of changes he made in Indianapolis.

Other hospitals can benefit from learning how to apply numbers and other forms of measurements to improve quality and safety of care, he said.

The rest of his tenure at Community will not be phased out, he said, but rather a continuation of a full-time schedule.

His work with the institute begins in 2010.

Doug Leonard, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, said Corley's tenure is noteworthy in an era when the average tenure for a hospital CEO is less than five years.

Corley's shift to the institute will be a good fit, Leonard said.

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